Magnetic Markers

By Alea Tools

Animal Monstrous Magentism

Alea Tools’ fun little discs also serve as Christmas decorations and impromptu traffic signalsHad Gamer Bling never gone to a trade show, Gamer Bling would never have seen these. Chances are, you haven’t gone to a trade show either, which is why you’re reading this. Do not despair, for Gamer Bling has braved the bathing-challenged crowds on your behalf, and scouted out these items for you. And they’re cool, and this review will show you why.

But before Gamer Bling continues, he must confront those among you who doubt the sincerity of his devotion or the bravery of his acts. He does this by recalling an incident at Gen Con one year (he does not recall exactly which one, although it was likely in Milwaukee). But it is a true story, like all some most of Gamer Bling’s ramblings. Frightfully true. He shudders even today, many years and miles removed from the incident.

Gamer Bling was in the dealer’s room at Gen Con, doing his annual pilgrimage through the entirety of the hall and inspecting each and every booth. Gamer Bling feels this is not just a pleasure, but a duty: these people spent time and money creating a booth presence at Gen Con, and, as a fellow exhibitor, the least that Gamer Bling could do was to expend at least a few moments giving them some attention in return for their investment.

Now, Gamer Bling was at the end of an aisle at the back of the room, shuffling in the congested midst of a sheeplike mass of gamers around the end of the aisle to the next, when suddenly he could not breathe. This is no exaggeration. He had about a half lungful of air, and suddenly his glottis locked up and nothing more was coming in or out, despite his best efforts. Having spent some time in emergency medicine, Gamer Bling was definitely concerned, although he knew he had about 90 seconds of remaining consciousness and about four minutes before further brain damage set in. Adrenaline surging, he quickly ran a quick diagnostic of his internal functions. Brain: alert. Heart: pumping. Physical blockage of the esophagus: none. Temperature: comfortable, no sweating or chills. Respiration: none. Other symptoms: none.

Apparently policies weren't all that stank.There was a brief moment of impending panic inasmuch as Gamer Bling had no idea what was happening to him. He wondered if any friends or acquaintances were nearby, or, if not, how he could convey his situation to a stranger with no air passing his vocal chords. Thus far, all of this had taken place in the space of about twenty seconds.

Glancing quickly around, he saw no familiar faces… and then his eyes fell upon the broad back of a hardcore gamer. The massive build and tautly stretched t-shirt spoke of unnecessary indulgence in Krispy Kreme donuts and highly caffeinated corn-syrup solutions; the greasy hair and dark circles of sweat under each arm affirmed the utter lack of recent hygiene; and of the dried salty sweat rings that were also visible around said dampness, the less said the better.

Gamer Bling quickly theorized that some primal survival instinct had closed his lungs against this monstrous biological threat as surely as if he had been under water. Seeing that the land leviathan was moving inexorably forward down the back wall of the dealer’s room, Gamer Bling moved aggressively along his original course to the next aisle, pushing past several people with unfortunate impoliteness as redness started to blur his vision.

And as soon as he was past the aerial wake of the unbathed undulant, his breathing abruptly started anew. And there was much rejoicing. At least in Gamer Bling’s internal monologue.

All this to say that the most noisome odor to which Gamer Bling has been exposed, of that odor he smelled… nothing.

And people say there is no God.

Enough of that. Review time.

Alea Tools’ magnetic markers are just that: magnets covered with a durable coating of plastic to create an easy way to mark certain game states. The markers are 1″ across and 0.2″ thick, which makes them fit quite neatly under any miniature with 1″ round bases. Like, say, most of the collectible miniatures we see on the market.

It’s a rainbow coalition of magnetic colors! It’s like diversity in a bag! You can show how sensitive and progressive you are by owning all of them and taunting your friends with your superior bling.Especially when dealing with larger combats, we all know that from time to time we can get bogged down remembering what’s what: Which orc is the poisoned one? And that one in the back, is he injured, or is he planning something devious? With magnetic markers, such details are easier to track.

Use yellow markers for those who are injured, red for those who are critically injured, and black for those who are dying or dead. Green can represent poison, and blue can represent flying. Place the markers next to or underneath the character in question, and suddenly tracking the situation just got a whole lot easier. That orc in the rear with the green and red markers? Now you know he’s poisoned and low on hit points. (Unfortunately for players, the markers are just as useful for the game master when she’s trying to figure out the enemy’s tactics. This in turn will increase PC mortality. C’est la guerre.)

Given the variety of game states, you’ll be happy to know that the markers come in 20 different colors. Initially, Alea produced only the standard male-named colors of, say, green and blue. However, as of August 2007 they are officially branching out into your female-named colors, beginning with burgundy and teal. Gamer Bling supposes that burgundy could be used for inebriated foes, and teal for, um, fops and bards.

Thankfully, Alea Tools has yet to branch out into designer-paint colors like “watermelon sunrise” and “sonova beige.”

They also have an additional 9 non-standard colors: silver (ooh!) and gold (ooh! ooh!) plus an assortment of “marble” colors that swirl two standard colors together like an overzealous two-tone soft-serve ice cream cone. Yes, that’s 29 colors total, and still no watermelon sunrise. They call these “limited edition” markers (Gamer Bling calls them “swirlies”), available for a limited time while supplies last. So get them while they’re hot.

Additionally, the markers can take wet-erase pens. This is useful for identifying the enemies, or tracking damage taken, or noting how long the charm person spell is going to last. Or even drawing little smiley faces and rolling the markers back and forth across the table when someone’s taking too much time to decide their next move.

Finally, remember all those 1″ cut-out NPC circles we got in the early 3e issues of Dungeon magazine… while it was still being published? Magnetic markers can help you convert those from cardstock chips that blow across the map with a medium-sized sneeze to weighty ersatz miniatures. Glue them onto a 1” washer, or even directly to a magnetic marker. Alea Tools has a lot of great suggestions on this sort of stuff, but rather than reiterate it, Gamer Bling will just point you to their wonderful photo-illustrated guide.

Now, the first release of Alea markers did have one drawback: the magnets filled the plastic casing, which meant that their magnetic fields would interfere with each other when they were placed too close together side by side. For example, if you were poisoned and the gnoll you were fighting was badly wounded, your little green marker and its little red marker would push each other away. This is why, as you may have noted, only half of the markers in the shizzlin’ tubular hep cat graphic at right show the Alea logo.

The upshot was that if you had a dense scrum involving a bunch of states that needed magnetic marking, any motion could cause a very disruptive chain reaction.

Alea corrected this with the release of their Neo-Markers, which are not, as one might suppose, named after a Keanu Reeves character, even though his acting ability is on par with a small piece of colored plastic. They are named for neodymium, a rare earth of atomic number 60 (that’s atomic number 3C in hexadecimal). Neodymium magnets are used in a variety of industrial applications, including, possibly, multi-axis, computer-controlled, pulsed-laser marking systems. The advantage of the neodymium magnets is that they are 1/5 the size or the original Alea magnets, so there is plenty of breathing room around the magnets and the markers no longer interfere with (push on or cling to) each other on the tabletop.

So there you have it. Nicely made, colorful, useful. And if you mount your map to a steel sheet, you could even have your minis up against the wall!

And, darn it, they’re just fun to fiddle with. Gamer Bling’s fingers are happy.

Weak Points

The first weakness Gamer Bling immediately come up with is that Gamer Bling wants all the colors. And Gamer Bling doesn’t have them. This is called “pouting”.

Second, but actually more important, for maximum ease, you really should spend the time to convert your miniatures to rest on a metal washer or magnetic board so the markers will stick to them securely. Nothing ruins a good battle worse than having miniatures topple off their markers in a cascade of clumsiness. Why is this a weakness? Because in the modern America of instant gratification and chop-chop film editing, some people may be frustrated by having to make such a long-term commitment to a project, and instead they’ll continue to cope with collapsing miniatures. (Gamer Bling bulletin: ConflictChips don’t need to be converted.)

The third weakness is that these are magnets, and therefore pose a threat to your computer, TV, and other electronic devices.

The fourth is that they are fairly dense and circular, so if you drop them (as Gamer Bling did just now) they can roll like a bugger and get way back behind your computer desk, threatening to destroy your review document with their nefarious magnetic radiation beams. And then you have to get down on your hand and knees and use a ruler to knock around the dust bunnies until you get them out again.

Finally, a warning! Dry-erase pens will permanently stain your pieces, darn it, and Gamer Bling has the defaced marker to prove it!

The Bottom Line

Useful, colorful, and fun to twiddle with. Gamer Bling says they’re cool. Or he would, if only he could stop pouting about not having all the colors. Hrmph.

Summary

Bling Factor: [qty.colors(owned)/2]
Quality: 9
Utility: 8
Price: varies by quantity ordered, but generally 75¢ for a 1″ marker and $1.20 for a 2″.
You need: 10-30

E-tail

Gamer Bling has not yet set up any actual e-tail discounts or spcials with Alea Tools yet (mainly because he is too busy), but they have been kind to him nonetheless. If your FLGS is hopelessly underblinged and you must order direct, or if you just want to pop over to the Alea Tools site and check things out, please use this link. It will track GB referrals, which will increase Gamer Bling’s cosmic schmoozing power. After all, Gamer Bling can only review a specific color of magnetic marker once, but there is no limit to the number of magnetic markers he can own…

The Future

What will Alea do next? Beats Gamer Bling with a stick. Adding more colors will grow increasingly pointless; players need to be able to distinguish between the colors at a glance. They have large magnets. So the next logical step is huge 3″ markers. Hmm…

Products

There are other products to come, but these are what Gamer Bling has reviewed thus far.

1″ Neo-Markers

These are useful for small and medium-sized critters like wascally wabbits and the hunters who hunt them. Buy a batch of one color, or pick up an assortment.

2″ Neo-Markers

Gamer Bling predicted these under “The Future” when he originally posted this review (along with the eventual appearance of teal markers), and he is glad that they have come to pass.

You need these to mark large enemies like griffons or adult dragons or whoever the heck it was that kept Gamer Bling from breathing in the Gen Con dealer’s room.

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